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‘I always thought I was immune to stress, but now I’m not so sure’

Lecturers had a week to move their courses online. An enormous challenge because remote teaching definitely wasn’t commonplace at Leiden University. Suzan Verberne, a lecturer and researcher at LIACS, shares her experiences. ‘I tried to do too much in my first week working from home.’

This is one in a series of articles in which our lecturers talk about how they have switched to online teaching. 

Suzan Verberne teaches the Text Mining master’s course in the autumn semester and the Data Science bachelor’s course in the spring semester. These are followed by around 40 students from various programmes at the Faculty of Science. She is also on the Board of Examiners and supervises ten to fifteen bachelor’s and master’s students during the academic year.

Suzan Verberne in her attic ‘office’, where she is now teaching her courses online.
Suzan Verberne in her attic ‘office’, where she is now teaching her courses online.

Sharing experiences with colleagues

‘Lectures, tutorials, tests: I have to translate various sorts of teaching into an online version. By chance, we had two weeks without classes because of the Science Career Event and resit week. That gave me some time to prepare for remote teaching. The first priority was to ensure the thesis supervision and supervision of PhD candidates would continue. I talk to each student once a fortnight, and am now doing so online. We already used Slack (an online collaboration programme, ed.) at LIACS so my colleagues immediately started using that to share the remote teaching tools that they are using. I read everyone’s experiences and decided to start using Kaltura. The Live Room option is very good for interactive lectures.’

For now, teaching comes before research

‘I tried to do too much in my first week working from home. I had nine meetings planned for the Wednesday. That was really intensive, especially in combination with homeschooling our two children of eight and five. Luckily I can share that with my husband. We now both work two-and-a-half days per week and that seems to be working. We work in shifts from our attic “office” (see photo). The consequence is that some of my research work has had to be put on hold because I usually work four days a week. Teaching is more important for now.’

Suzan’s tips for her colleagues

‘My tips for other lecturers: prioritise and try to speak to your students regularly to find out about their personal situation. Some students are stressed at the moment or are worried about their family, especially if they live abroad.’

Not so immune after all

‘On the plus side, I’ve discovered that I actually like having the children at home and being more involved in their schoolwork. On the minus side, I’ve discovered that the uncertainty of the situation is quite stressful. I always thought I was immune to stress, but now everything has been turned on its head, it really is taking some getting used to. At the same time I realise that we as a family are lucky that we are in good health, have a stable financial situation and have two parents who can work from home.’

‘From a practical point of view, I’m disappointed that there is little consensus within our institute about which tools to use. We’ve been warned that Zoom doesn’t treat your personal data securely, but Skype doesn’t work properly with Linux users. I don’t think this is a good time to try out new software, apart from Kaltura for online teaching, which is supported by the University.’

Online exams will be a challenge

‘Online exams will be a challenge in the coming period. For my bachelor’s class I usually have a closed-book exam in combination with computer practicals. The practicals can carry on as usual remotely, but we will have to change the exam. Here too I’m counting on the collective experiences of my colleagues. And alongside the teaching I’m also a bit nervous about what will happen with activities in the coming months: primary school, sport and music activites that we usually do as a family, holidays, conferences and other academic events that we had planned.’

Editor: Marieke Epping
Photo: Suzan Verberne

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